New Europeans who still think like Alf Garnett: Brussels trainees are just as prone to prejudice as the legendary TV bigot, says Brian Cathcart

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THE FRENCH are haughty, the Germans hard-working, the Italians excitable and the Dutch serious. Such are the cliches of international prejudice, the cardboard Europeans that Alf Garnett loved to hate but nobody else really believes in any more.

Wrong. These views are held by a group of Europeans who are as sophisticated, cosmopolitan and informed as they come: the staff and students of the European University Institute in Florence, where bright young Euro-things are groomed for senior European Community jobs. These people meet and work with foreigners all the time; they speak their languages; indeed, the vast majority of them are foreigners.

And they do not spare the British, who are, they say, nationalistic, isolationist, parochial, cynical, old-fashioned, reserved and formal to the point of being 'dead'. Do you recognise yourself?

One hundred people at the Institute in Florence were asked to declare their views on national characteristics for a study published in the latest issue of The Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences. These are, if anybody is, the people of the New Age, moving among their European fellows with ease and enthusiasm, untroubled by ancient bigotry and fired with common feeling.

They were given a questionnaire devoid of any element of suggestion - no hints or multiple choices - and they were encouraged to express their views freely on five EC nationalities at whatever length they chose. What they produced, in outline, was a pattern of judgements on their fellow Europeans which would not be out of place in the Sun.

Nico Wilterdink of the Amsterdam Sociological Institute, the author of the study, grouped together the most popular adjectives and themes. Here they are:

The French: nationalistic (also chauvinistic, ethnocentric, isolationist, militaristic, xenophobic, racist, oriented to their own culture); arrogant (also proud, pretentious, snobbish, intimidating); refined (civilised, cultured or elegant); charming (vivacious, open, enthusiastic or passionate).

The Germans: orderly (disciplined, organised, efficient, obedient to rules, inflexible, punctual); hard-working (laborious and ambitious); arrogant (particularly in intellectual matters); complex (difficult to understand, Angst-ridden).

The Italians: spontaneous (expressive, open, lively, available); friendly (sensitive, affectionate, sympathetic); cheerful (also superficial, childish); undisciplined (unreliable, chaotic); theatrical (insincere, conceited); refined.

The Dutch: friendly (pleasant, easy-going); serious (too serious, cold, boring); internationalist (cosmopolitan, multilingual); stubborn (moralistic, socially responsible); frugal (sober, mean, commercial).

The British: nationalistic (isolationist, chauvinist, insular, parochial); arrogant (smug, pretentious, snobbish, self-assured); reserved (distant, stiff, withdrawn); friendly (nice, co-operative, informal); humorous (also witty, cynical); conservative (traditional, old-fashioned).

These views were not unanimously held, but Mr Wilterdink points out that his study group conspicuously failed to disagree. 'No one remarked that the French were internationalist, modest or rude,' he wrote, 'nor did anyone call the British spontaneous, the Germans lazy, the Italians disciplined or the Dutch nationalistic.' And when people wrote about their own nationality, their views tended to match those of others commenting on them as foreigners.

If these views hold sway even among people dedicated to European integration, can it mean that they are true? No, says Mr Wilterdink. The study group, he insists, may have taken in some of these attitudes with their mothers' milk; they may have been influenced by political factors, such as the British government's line on the Community; or they may simply be using convenient and familiar labels to describe more complicated matters that are rather different when examined in more detail.

You may choose to believe all this, or you may prefer to remember that Mr Wilterdink is Dutch, which means, according to the stereotype, that he is naturally friendly, serious, internationalist and socially responsible.